General Motors has released the first few images of the 2011 Chevy Volt ahead of its official launch early next week, giving the world its first good look at the car that many hope will redefine the way motorists use fuel.
So, is it a looker, or is it time to break out a car-sized paper bag? Thankfully the former is the case. Unlike previous hybrids that traded on their distinctive, yet ungainly shapes to endear themselves to environmentally-conscious (and image-conscious) buyers (Toyota Prius, Honda Insight: I'm lookin' at you), the Volt instead takes on a more reserved persona with compact sedan dimensions and conventional-yet-futuristic styling.
There are some unusual touches, mind you. Like those blacked-out sills under the door glass, the solid plastic faux-grille on the front and the blackened bootlid. They're no deal-breakers, however, and while the exterior of the production Volt may not be quite as dynamic as the low-roofed, fender-flared Volt Concept, it's still a very pleasing shape to behold.
So, you're probably wondering who those 'suited-up' men are, and why they're getting their greasy fingerprints all over the Volt. Well, they're the head honchos behind the Volt project: Tony Posawatz, Andrew Farah, Bob Boniface, Frank Weber and Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of GM, and they're all partly responsible for bringing the ambitious plug-in-hybrid project to fruition.
Trouble in Paradise?
GM has high hopes for the Volt, not only because it offers buyers a genuine opportunity to liberate themselves (and their wallets) from the oily grip of their local petrol station, but also because it offers America's largest automaker a chance to one-up Toyota (who has yet to release a plug-in-hybrid) in the hybrid car stakes.
However, it appears the EPA may be about to become a thorn in the side of GM's plans for the Volt. According to Motor Trend, the EPA and GM are locking horns over whether the Volt is a hybrid car or an electric car - a definition that could drastically affect how the Volt's fuel economy rating is calculated.
Under current testing regimes, the Volt can reportedly complete the EPA's test cycle with the petrol engine running only 15% of the time, thereby delivering an average fuel economy figure of well over 100 miles per gallon, or 2.35 litres per 100km. The EPA, however, wants the Volt to finish the test cycle with its batteries nearly at full charge - a requirement that necessitates the petrol engine be running constantly, thus dropping economy to 48mpg or 4.9l/100km.
While a 48mpg car is still impressively thrifty, it certainly doesn't give GM much to work with when it comes to boasting about the Volt's credentials - many existing hybrids, diesels and even some petrol-powered cars can already hit that figure. Given the Volt is also expected to retail for around $40,000 USD, GM had better hope that the EPA relents and grants the Volt a fuel economy rating that properly reflects its true abilities.
[GM, Motor Trend]